Inaugural Formula E Race Proves Electric Car Racing Is Anything But Boring

It had all the ingredients of a classic motor racing duel: excitement, suspense, adrenaline and even a last-lap, final corner crash which took out the two drivers vying for first place.

If you caught a glimpse of it on television some time over the weekend with the sound turned down, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was any other gasoline-fuelled race series like Formula 1, Formula Ford or Formula 3.

The Formula E race remained fairly tightly-packed throughout the 25-lap race.

The Formula E race remained fairly tightly-packed throughout the 25-lap race. (Photo: Formula E, YouTube)

But Saturday’s inaugural Formula E race, held on the city streets in and around the iconic Birds’ Nest Stadium in Beijing, China, differed in one very important way from other FIA-sanctioned race series. All the cars were completely electric.

We’ve been covering Formula E here on Transport Evolved since it was first announced, but even we didn’t expect the drama and excitement that the inaugural race treated us to on Saturday.

Starting early on Saturday morning with the qualifying session, the field of twenty drivers — including the late Ayrton Senna’s nephew Bruno Senna and Nicolas Prost, son of F1 champion Alain Prost — treated the crowd in Beijing to an exciting and close-run qualifying session. While Senna put in the fastest lap time of the free practice sessions, a car fault meant he was unable to take part in qualifying, leaving him at the back of the grid and opening up a space for Nico Prost to claim pole.

When the race proper began, Senna’s luck went from bad to worse as he collided with Takuma Sato on the first lap causing a yellow flag to be brought out until the debris had been cleared from the track. After the race proper got back underway, the remaining drivers expertly put to bed any fears from racing enthusiasts that the tight city course and electrically-driven race cars would result in a dull, boring race with no overtaking.

Mid-race as planned, all teams successfully executed the controversial car swap maneuverers, with drivers getting out of the car they had driven for the first part of the race and into a freshly-charged but identical car for the remainder of the race.  As with pitstops for tires and fuel in conventional race series, the car swaps were carried out in a strategic way, with teams calling drivers in at the best possible point in the race to ensure they wouldn’t lose their place in the field.

The last-corner crash left former F1 race car driver Nick Heidfeld upside down in his car. Luckily, he wasn't injured. (Photo: Formula E, YouTube)

The last-corner crash left former F1 race car driver Nick Heidfeld upside down in his car. Luckily, he wasn’t injured. (Photo: Formula E, YouTube)

In total, the race lasted for twenty-five laps, with Frenchman Nicolas Prost holding his own to the penultimate corner for what looked like a sure-win. But when rival Nick Heidfeld overtook to stake his claim on the racing line for the final corner, Prost cut across Heidfeld’s path to stop the manoeuvre, making contact with the German race car driver and sending both Heidfeld and his car barrelling into the air. With no steering left, all Prost could do was watch in his mirror as third-place Lucas di Grassi made his way past the wreckage and onto the winners’ podium.

Luckily, no-one was hurt in the final corner impact, but the impact served to remind us that whatever the fuel type, automotive racing is never a foregone conclusion.

Here at Transport Evolved we think the inaugural Formula E race showed great promise and managed to serve as an excellent taster for those experiencing electric motor sport for the first time. But we also note that the high-pitched whine from the electric cars as they tore around the Beijing city circuit was much louder than we’d expected. Environmentally friendly though it might be, Formula E is anything but quiet.

But what did you think of the race? Did you watch it? And what do you think of the controversial fan boost feature that gives drivers a few seconds of extra power based on social-media voting before the race?

Leave your thoughts in the Comments below.

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  • CDspeed

    I watched it on TV, it was pretty exciting but the social media thing ticked me off. Social media has become an obsession, and now race teams have to hope a popularity contest goes their way to access the full potential of their cars.

  • Michael Thwaite

    It’s heartwarming to see all the comments from traditional enthusiasts. With a bit of tweaking, I think that we have a race series that we can all get behind.

    • CDspeed

      I haven’t heard any criticism of the cars being electric when people talk about the recent race. It’s funny how quickly the teasing stopped after just one race, and now people are just talking about the motorsport aspect.

      • Surya

        The only complaint I have seen is the car switching, and that flying all over the world with eco cars is not eco friendly. True of course, but this race was made to promote EVs all over the world of course, and building new cars in each continent to avoid flying them there would be even more wasteful of course.

        • CDspeed

          I wouldn’t worry about the shipping, think of all the things that are shipped daily, food, clothes, electronics, passenger cars. I live in the US, and drive a German car……….

          • Surya

            … and the carbon for your german car was made in the US before being shipped to Germany to be assembled and then shipped to the US again. That’s the economy we live in. But somehow regular people only question those things when it comes to green products…

          • CDspeed

            It’s just like pointing out how dirty producing electricity is when it comes to electric cars. No one cares about it for anything else, but when it comes to green tech suddenly they’re a member of the eco police.

          • Surya

            Exactly

      • Michael Thwaite

        Spoiler alert:nnnnnnnnnnnnnI suspect a monumental smash on the last lap of the very first race might have helped!

        • CDspeed

          It did, if you read what people say about F1 it sounds like they’d abandon it if it wasn’t action packed. Sadly most spectators are a bit thick, they need action to satisfy their short attention spans, or beer………usually both.

  • offib

    I’ve saw it later on YouTube. It was truley exciting. Sharing it among my friends, they have all look what’s what because of the crash and had no idea there was an electric Formula race or that they were taken place on city streets.nnnThe 70 minutes, I think, flew by. I was rather upset to see the placements Legge and Cerruti made at the bottom.

  • Green Airplane

    I love that there’s an all electric formula race. But the voting for extra power makes it a bit of a farce.